I am writing this post two days ahead of time, which has happened only once or twice before in the history of the planet. It’s like a blood moon, only rarer.
And no, it’s not because I have insider information of an asteroid about to hit the planet on Friday, a zombie apocalypse, or any other disaster threatening to annihilate humankind as we know it.
It’s much simpler than that.
I’m just lazy.
And writing this post instead of the other tasks at hand because it’s easier. For me, writing comes easy. Other stuff that involves calculating, talking to people, setting up charts and otherwise being productive… not so much.
So I’m here.
Procrastination and laziness are not words normally associated with someone whose main role in life is to motivate others to get moving.
Since the holidays (yes, I know they’ve been over for months now), it’s as if someone’s been spiking my coffee with a motivation killing serum.
For one, the getting older reminder that happens every January (a.k.a. my birthday) sets me back a bit. I tend to wallow in The Way Things Were and Will Never Be Again.
I listen to my 25-year old hairstylist lament about what she sees as “problems” in her life, let out a deep sigh, wrap the blanket around my legs and sip tea with my fingerless gloves.
Basically, I do the exact opposite of what I tell my clients.
But here’s the thing: Even though my motivation approaches DEFCON1, it doesn’t mean I am not doing anything.
It just means I’m not doing it with a smile on my face.
It’s still getting done, even if I’m going through the motions and being a bit cranky in the process.
This brings me to today’s topic du jour: self-discipline, an attribute that goes hand-in-hand with any achievement outside of binge-watching Netflix.
Before I offer a few tips, it’s important to realize a few facts about self-discipline.
— For one, in order to stick with an exercise routine or healthy eating plan, you don’t need to practice self-discipline FOREVER.
You only need self-discipline when you first start a new habit. Once you’re off and running and no longer need as much — if any — self-discipline to keep going.
It simply becomes part of what you do.
Like showering (hopefully), you don’t have to make a conscious decision to do it. It’s automatic.
For another example, think of changes you’ve made in prior years. Maybe you quit smoking, stopped lying out in the sun slathered in baby oil or ceased pouring vodka over your cornflakes in the morning.
Success happens when you find a way to either stop the habit altogether or choose a healthier substitute for the current one.
— Also, it
no how no way may not happen in one fell swoop, either.
It will likely take a number of attempts before the new habit sticks.
Using myself as an example… back in the 80s (a moment of silence for leg warmers and big hair) I was a big diet soda drinker. I don’t remember how much I drank, but it was a lot.
I decided to make a change. I began by substituting a bottle of water for a can or two of soda. Initially, it was “ick,” water??
But over time I completely ditched the diet soda.
It took a number of tries, however, and several weeks or more, if memory serves me (which is likely doesn’t). In the end, I not only stopped drinking diet soda but now find it completely gross.
I can’t even make it through half a can before pouring it down the sink, as it hisses and fizzes its obscenities at me for buying and then wasting it.
Initially, this took a ton of self-discipline. Temptation abounded. Every time I’d pass a soda machine, check out in the grocery store or be offered one, I’d need to say NO! loudly to my obnoxious inner child.
Now? Diet soda is not even a thought. Ever. I associate it with excess gas, heartburn, and a nasty aftertaste, none of which appeals to me, not surprisingly.
That, my friend, is where you want to be with your new habit.
It should be a no-brainer and just part of the 40% of activities you do every day without thinking.
Self-discipline fades with each decision you make during the day, research shows, in what’s called “decision fatigue.” You’re much more likely to give in to temptation after work or a day of making many decisions. So if you aren’t wild about exercise, do it first so you take that decision off your plate and can get on with your day.
Changing jobs, moving to a new city or otherwise making a drastic change to your environment creates a perfect scenario for changing a bad habit and starting a new one. This changes the existing “cues” you associate with a particular habit.
Since you can’t pack up and leave every time you want to try to break a habit, the next best thing is to make changes in your environment. Keep unhealthy foods out of sight, whether it’s in a cupboard behind a secret panel or in a sealed container. Better yet, don’t buy it in the first place.
Forget the old belief that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. In reality, the time it takes for a new habit to become permanent actually takes anywhere from 15 to 254 days, depending on the magnitude of the change. Keep at it and you’re bound to succeed, even if it takes longer than you’d like. Consistency!
Link your new habit to something you currently do on a regular basis, so the first action provides the “cue” to do the second. For example, I put my workout clothes near my bathroom sink. So each morning when I brush my teeth the clothes are ready and waiting for me to put on.
Of course, I can still ignore them, but my workout is such a habit that it takes a conscious decision NOT to do it.
YOUR TURN: What would YOU like to change? What steps will you take this week to create a new habit? Let me know in the comments section below…
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Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.